Air Force’s Secretive X-37B Space Plane Lands In Florida

Pablo Tucker
October 29, 2019

A U.S. Air Force's secretive X-37B "mini-shuttle" landed at the former space shuttle runway at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:51 a.m. EDT on Sunday, October 27, 2019. The US Air Force boasts that the X-37B is the world's only reusable space vehicle (rockets don't count), one that opens the doors for even more lab experiments and small satellites riding on the craft in future missions.

The X-37B spaceplane, roughly the size of a small bus, shares many design features with NASA's Space Shuttle.

The US Air Force is clearly attempting to push space technology as far as possible, and they are doing that with the Boeing-made space plane X-37B. The planes were designed for a 270-day mission duration in orbit but have now almost tripled that time frame. The mission breaks the mysterious plane's own record by spending more than two years in space.

"The X-37B continues to demonstrate the importance of a reusable spaceplane", Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Barbara Barrett said in a statement posted online.

The Air Force said it is preparing its sixth X-37B mission which will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in 2020. The current mission hosted the Air Force Research Laboratory Advanced Structurally Embedded Thermal Spreader, an experiment created to "test experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipe technologies in the long-duration space environment", according to an Air Force statement.

"The sky is no longer the limit for the Air Force and, if Congress approves, the US Space Force", General David L Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, said. Reusable space planes such as the X-37B and rapid-launch capabilities are among the needs the military sees as it confronts space as a "warfighting" domain in the 21st century. As of today, the total number of days spent on-orbit for the entire test vehicle program is 2,865 days. But according to the U.S. Air Force, the X-37B has the unique ability to "test new systems in space and return them to Earth" and the mission "successfully completed" all of its objectives. Not only is this the vehicle's third successful landing, it is also the longest time an X-37B has flown in orbit, finally crossing the two-year threshold. Mission 4 landed at Kennedy Space Center on May 7, 2017, after 718 days in orbit. Gen. Doug Schiess, 45th Space Wing commander. Officials involved within the space planes experiments have kept their answers quite vague in regards to the payload, saying that it "experimental electronics" and other scientific tests.

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